Nicole Bialko of Columbus is among the one-in-six women who've experienced stalking. And she's sharing her story to encourage other victims to stand up to stalking.
When a relationship that started online turned emotionally toxic, Bialko tried to end it. She said her former boyfriend started harassing and following her, even entering her apartment when she was out of town.
Despite her efforts to ignore him, including blocking hundreds of email addresses and phone numbers, he persisted. So Bialko contacted authorities.
"Trust your instincts, never excuse a red flag," said Bialko. "And if you find yourself making excuses for this individual, feeling unsettled, feeling isolated, maybe what you could do you're not doing anymore, things you enjoyed - there's a problem."
Bialko said she hopes to help other abuse victims free themselves from the fear of stalking. Her advice includes setting firm boundaries, collecting evidence, seeking legal advice about getting a Civil Protective Order, being vigilant about personal safety and maintaining a support system.
Bialko said the police took her seriously, but feels her case was diminished in the courts. In a plea deal, her former partner's charges of felony menacing by stalking; burglary and a protective order violation were reduced to a misdemeanor of criminal mischief.
Bialko said just like physical abuse, emotional and mental abuse is terrifying.
"If you're scared, you're scared out for a reason," said Bialko. "So there's something that individuals doing that's causing you that fear, but there's no tangible evidence. Because I can't show you a picture of a black and blue eye, I don't think it's taken as seriously. "
Caroline Anderson is the communications coordinator with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. She encouraged friends and family members of survivors to be as supportive as possible and understand that it's difficult for a victim of abuse to simply walk out the door.
"Why didn't you leave sooner? I hate that question," said Anderson. "Why did she stay? I hate that question as advocate. She stayed because she didn't know she was in an abusive relationship. She didn't know how to leave. And leaving is the most dangerous time in a relationship. "
Anderson said most domestic-violence fatalities in Ohio occur when a survivor is in the process of ending the relationship or has already left.
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network can direct stalking survivors to local resources. There also is an easy-to-use chat feature at odvn.org for assistance.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month.